Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Drama, Simple Vocabulary Games & Poetry – A Mix that ROCKS!

Let your imagination run loose!  Naomi’s Photos

 

Sometimes quickly turning inspiration into action, while keeping things really simple, is absolutely the way to go.

This is the first year that I am teaching the poem “As I Grow Older” by Langston Hughes to high school students at several levels, not just to the students at the highest level. I am very pleased by the decision.

The lead-in activity focusing on the metaphor of the wall (and not on giving a historical background) clarified it well for my students. You can find the activity here:  Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks

However, my weaker students needed more practice in remembering the vocabulary items used in the poem so that we could focus on analysis and interpretation.

It occurred to me that this was a good time to start trying to put some principles into practice. I’m fortunate to be taking an in-service training course with the fascinating Debbie Ben Tura on the use of drama in EFL lessons (thanks to the awesome Regina Shraybman who brought the course to our school!).

Obviously, I couldn’t read the poem out dramatically in English while groups of students act out the lines they hear. Many of my students this year are quite Deaf and communicate mainly in Sign – Language. However, I did not want to miss out on the connection between acting, movement, and retention.

So here’s what I did.

Quickly.

I took scrap paper and wrote out twelve verses from the poem in large letters. Not beautiful, not laminated, just readable from afar. These pages will be thrown out soon. See here:

Round One

Verses on paper, round one

One student was “the teacher”. Another student was placed in charge of the stopwatch on a cell phone. I explained that each student would mime out each verse on a page, as shown by “the teacher” and the time it took them to do so would be recorded on the board. We agreed that some use of Sign Language would be allowed as long as it was combined with acting dramatically (standing stiffly and just signing was banned).

The students immediately asked for a review of the sentences before we began and I, naturally, was happy to oblige.

The students loved it and were quite creative with ideas. Suddenly a verse like “the wall rose between me and my dream” became a visual creation that the students were physically involved in creating! It was clear that the students were focusing on the verses intently.

The weakest student had the role of playing “teacher” – by the time it was his turn the verses had been acted out five times before with “reminders” in between. He needed some help but felt confident enough to participate.

Round Two

The board – Round Two

The students helped me stick the pages with the verses on the board.

One by one a student came to the board. Each of the other students had to act out two verses (we went around twice) and the student by the board had to point to the sentence being acted out. If they pointed to the wrong sentence I intervened until they found the right one, which of course “cost time”. Again we wrote scores on the board. If someone wanted a review before his /her turn at the whiteboard, the group was able to explain the forgotten items. I didn’t have to do it!

The big pages are now going into the trash bin. I had students copy the verses onto index cards which I plan to use in other ways next week.

Drama, poetry, and vocabulary can be so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking News! Unknown Link between EdTech & Crushed Garlic Now Confirmed!

 

There’s a way in!
Naomi’s Photos

Recent research at the Puffin Institute of Classroom Experience has illuminated the striking connection between using educational technology in the classroom and crushing garlic, particularly crushing garlic with a fork. Due to the fact that many teachers moonlight as family cooks, the following information may be of particular interest.

Here are the main findings of the research:

A divisive flavor!

Either you hate it or you love it…  Feelings run strong!

There is no denying that generous use of garlic has a strong presence in a dish – whether it enhances it or makes you push the dish away is the debatable part. Obviously, use of EdTech in the classroom, whether it is via computers, cell phones or tablets can’t be missed either. The question is whether eyes are rolled at the thought of introducing it into the classroom while tongues are clucked in disapproval at the “waste of time”, or is the technology embraced as means to interactive learning?

It can be sorely tempting to use the frozen version!

“Finely dice the garlic!” “Only add the diced garlic when the onion has become translucent, otherwise the garlic will become bitter!” “it’s better to crush the four cloves of garlic!”

While there is no doubt that FRESH is best, frozen garlic cubes, (which only need to be tossed into the pot) can seem quite tempting indeed!

“Fresh” in EdTech means using technological tools that allow teachers to pour in content tailored to their own students’ needs, such as choosing the vocabulary or creating the questions. Remember the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine?” Well, one link (to a ready-made activity) may save time, say nine glorious minutes, or cost nineteen minutes in explaining what goblins are or “zero conditionals”, or get you mired in trying to explain why what happened to a mythical John in Ibiza might be a secret…

Everything under control…
Naomi’s Photos

There are Time-Saving Tricks – Sigh…

Try peeling the cloves of garlic, leave them whole and toss them into the pot with the onion. Now all you have to do is fish them out and smash them with a fork before adding all the other ingredients to the pot.  No dicing or special garlic-crushers needed – all time issues resolved, right?

Well…

It really is a time-saving tip, as long as you don’t dice the cloves out of habit before you remember not to. In addition, if you fish the cloves out of the pot too early they tend to fly off the chopping board when you try to crush them with a fork…

Thankfully computers don’t usually “fly” in the classroom. However, colleagues and counselors, so eager to impart time-saving tips which prove that using EdTech won’t take the teacher more time, sometimes forget that it takes time to learn how to save time. Time, practice and patience are called for…

Reducing Blood pressure \ Improving Brain Functions 

In these matters, Edtech and garlic only have a partial match. While it is clear that learning to use new educational tools (or learning anything for that matter), certainly improves brain functions, the issue of reducing blood pressure could not be established. There are schools in which using EdTech entails running after the person in charge of the computer room or dealing with old equipment that can crash…

“So, what now?”
Naomi’s Photos

Acquired Tastes!

There is hope!

The Puffin Institute of Classroom Experience has been collecting accumulating evidence proving that there are garlic-haters who have learned to like garlic in their food and teachers who have learned to overcome their distrust of EdTech.

Patience is the key!

When a Proctor’s Smile Becomes a Tricky thing – Deaf Students taking an EFL Exam

Naomi’s Photos

The scene is familiar, students seated in rows, one to a table, with an exam paper in front of each of them. Their school bags are lined up against the wall and there’s a dictionary on each desk.  All the students are focused on their exam papers.

However, the room is quite small. There are only nine students. There were supposed to be ten students but one of them, today of all days, missed his pick-up time for the transportation to school and is absent (hmm, I think to myself).

I ponder the advantages of being Deaf during an exam. The room assigned to us overlooks a parking lot of a neighboring municipal building. I seem to be the only one bothered by the noise of the vehicles, and the people talking too loudly on their cell phone. A student in the back taps his foot nervously and no one is perturbed by the repetitive tap tapping.  I’m relieved that there are no real hard of hearing students in this particular class – that kind of noise drives them bonkers (the students who hear better have turned off their hearing aids, I tap them on the shoulder if I need to tell them something).  That is until the nervous student starts knocking his pen against the desk. The student sitting in front of him immediately picks up her head, puzzled. She doesn’t know what she is hearing and which direction it is coming from. I explain and ask the other student to stop. He hadn’t noticed he was making a sound. Everyone else is working quietly.

Being judgmental…
Epstein Family Photos

Then it happens.

The same nervous student in the back gets up for a moment to stretch (the chairs never seem to be comfortable for these really tall boys!) and makes a funny face. I smile at him with a sort of silent laugh and motion to him to sit back down. Another student is instantly alert. What did he miss? What went on here? Why was I smiling? Did I say something when I was moving my hands?

You can’t say “It was nothing, keep working”. Deaf students are very sensitive about feeling left out of things. They have to deal with that feeling a lot in the world outside the classroom.  So there I am, explaining in Israeli Sign Language, about me smiling because of the student who made a funny face and that they both should get back to work when other students pick up their heads. They picked up on the sign language and needed to know what was going on.

In short, I ended up with a “commercial break” in which everyone got the update regarding the funny face made, that nothing more than that went on, no one missed anything and would they please go back to work.

And they did.

I’m still glad I smiled.  Even though it caused some trouble.

Smiles are worth it.

*** Note:  I enjoy following Jamie Keddie’s postings as he inspires teachers to take their own stories and use them with students and with other teachers.  This week his bi-weekly post happens to tie in with mine, as it is about communication or rather miscommunication!

“There is a  Scarface in the bath” by Jamie Keddie 

 

 

Should “Dated” Worksheets Be Tossed Out?

The school year may be a new one, but the question is a recurring one:

Should “dated” worksheets be tossed out?

Naomi’s Photos

Imagine giving your adolescent students a delightful questionnaire dealing with the question: “How Romantic are You”? My students really like that sort of thing and I have been using such questionnaires for years. **

Now imagine that one of the questions asks the students to consider what they would do if their love interest was late for a date. One of the possible answers is a suggestion to look for a pay-phone and place a call.

Most of my students can’t even recall ever seeing a pay-phone. There are very few left on our streets, as far as I can tell…

Then there are personalized grammar worksheets. My colleagues and I, over the course of many years, have created quite a few grammar practice worksheets designed either to sneak in some general knowledge or to personalize the material by mentioning famous people who the students are interested in. Personalizing the material is supposed to be a good thing, right?

However…

Will Smith no longer seems to be “the most popular actor in Hollywood”,  and none of my Deaf and hard of hearing students seem to have heard of Angelina Jolie or the movie “Avatar”.   A reference to President Clinton (Clinton as in Bill Clinton) could be seen as a mistake made by “an ignorant” teacher who apparently doesn’t know who won the last presidential election in the United States…

Naomi’s Photos

So what am I going to do?

Truly successful worksheets, like “the romance quiz”, stay in my repertoire, dated or not. When we get to the “pay-phone” part I simply ask them to imagine how long they would wait before turning to their phones. Their answer, invariably, is to send a text message the moment they arrive at the meeting point, so I just say that response correlates to the least romantic option.

Let me take a deep breath before talking about the grammar worksheets. I would like to say that I make new versions of all the dated ones so as to keep them relevant, but I don’t. It’s totally unrealistic, the workload as a teacher is heavy enough.  If the worksheet is a good one, in terms of pedagogical grammar, I keep it. So I’ve lost the personalized effect,  I can live with that. It’s just like another page in a grammar book. If the percentage of unfamiliar cultural references becomes an issue and a distraction for the students, I get rid of the worksheet.

What do you do?

** My students’ favorite questionnaire on the topic of  romance came from this site, though many years ago: EFL4u.com

 

In Defense of Using Coloring Pages in the EFL Classroom – A Comment

 

The sky IS there…
Naomi’s Photos

“You can’t color the clouds purple”!

“Why aren’t you being more careful about coloring in the lines”!

I too cringe at hearing such sentences directed at a child.

So, when Lauren Ornstein recommended the post: “Coloring Books and Worksheets: “What’s the value of staying in the lines” by Steve Drummond, I read it with great interest.

Yes, and yes.

But…

I don’t care about children coloring in the lines and I do agree that having children create their own drawings is certainly better for them than being limited by the drawing on a printed page.

But please don’t abolish coloring pages in classes of English as a foreign language! They can be a useful teaching aid!

Work with what you have! Naomi’s Photos

For starters, coloring pages are great for exercises in following instructions. They can be quite creative and hilarious, but such activities can only be used if all the students are holding the same coloring page.  Let’s take, as an example, the activity I call “Can you keep a straight face?” One by one the teacher calls on a student to stand up and give the class an instruction to color in one object/person/element on the page. The instruction should be as wacky as possible (the more unusual and ridiculous the better!) and the student must not smile or laugh when giving the instruction. If he /she does, the instruction must be given again (I teach special education, I don’t have children lose a turn!).  Then the following exchange can take place:

Student:  “Color the cat purple and yellow”.

Teacher: “Which cat? There is a cat on the sofa and another cat on the rug. ”

Student: “Color the cat on the rug purple and yellow”.

Another student in class asks about the color of the eyes in whatever form you imagine your students might be capable of asking.

Teacher (addressing the student speaking): “Please tell the class which color to use for the eyes. Remember, don’t laugh!” Note: It gets harder not to laugh when someone tells you not to laugh!

Student: “One orange eye and one brown eye”.

This activity can have a million variations. Students can write instructions for other students and then check to see if the result matched what they wrote. Students can look for pages matching descriptions they received, etc.

Just follow me!
Naomi’s Photos

You might say that some of these activities would work equally well with drawings that students made on their own.

Not really.

The quality and quantity of how a student colored in the page is totally irrelevant, there just has to be enough color that one can tell what’s what. This way you are leveling the playing field. A child’s artistic ability is totally not a factor and there is no room for being judgemental or competitive on that score. And that matters. A great deal.

I can’t end this post without bringing up the calming aspect of coloring pages. I’m a Special Ed teacher – having a box of interesting coloring pages is a life saver for everyone in the vicinity of a child that needs to calm down and collect himself/herself.  Perhaps just giving a blank page and nice crayons would work for some students, but certainly not for all.

If you invest a bit of effort in the coloring pages you bring in, you sneak in some general knowledge as well. It’s a really good feeling when a child raises his eyes and comments: “So this big clock is in London?”

That’s good too.

 

Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks

“I don’t nest on a tree! You just chose me because you like puffins!” Epstein Family Photos

You might think I am barking up the wrong tree.

Even if I am, it’s a tree well-chosen.

The short video that you see below “Too Quick to Judge” (3.42 min.)  obviously belongs to the genre of educational messages which we can refer to as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

Therefore, you would naturally assume that I would be using this video as a pre-reading task when teaching the story in our literature program “Mr. Know All” by Somerset Maugham. That story is about judging someone far too quickly based on his name and looks and this video certainly is related.

Nope.

Being judgmental…
Epstein Family Photos

I needed a pre-reading task for a group of struggling Deaf and hard of hearing learners (note: I also have very strong Deaf and hard of hearing learners!). They are wonderful young people, who are admirably determined to succeed, but their general knowledge can only be described as dismal and they get totally befuddled by abstract things such as metaphors.

The poem “As I Grew Older” by Langston Hughes uses the powerful metaphor of a “wall” to signify discrimination. I’ve decided to begin by focussing the pre-reading discussion on the significance of the wall, or rather a wall.

At first, I thought I the pre-reading task should be a mini American history lesson on slavery, civil rights, and discrimination. These issues will undoubtedly be discussed when I teach the poem itself (I discuss them when I teach the poem to my strong students) but I will not include them in the pre-reading.

The literacy educator Timothy Shanahan writes:

  1. ” Prior to reading, I will help students to think about ideas that are relevant to what is important or challenging in a text. (For example, if we are reading Moby Dick, the preparation activities will not emphasize whales, but obsession. Prior knowledge matters, but it has to be the knowledge that is relevant to what is important, rather than background information that is only superficially connected to the ideas).”  Quote from My New Year’s Resolutions for Teaching Reading Comprehension.
Dealing with walls…
Epstein Family Photos

My students will not understand the poem if they think that an actual brick wall actually popped up between the poet’s home and someplace he wanted to go.  These student’s default mode is to look at language in a very literal manner. Words should only have one concrete meaning as far as they are concerned. Some even complain that it is very inconsiderate of their feelings when this is not the case. Background knowledge won’t be helpful or meaningful if we don’t get them to relate the wall as a metaphor.

I believe the wall is a good place to start because these students actually have experience with a wall that needs to be broken. They all live with a hearing loss that affects their communication with the world around them and the way they are perceived by others.

For a change, I haven’t prepared any structured activities or worksheets for this video. In this case, an open discussion is needed. I’m going to write the word “wall” on the board and begin by asking them if they can imagine the wall between the boy and girl (who is Deaf!) sitting on the same bench and not communicating. Then I will ask if they can see other virtual barriers between people in this video. I believe that they will bring up points related to gender, race and perhaps economic status. I will sum up by reminding them that the wall is a metaphor yet they all understood it.

Once the students are prepared for a metaphor, we will be able to start learning the poem in its own context.

 

 

When Students use the “Fishbowl Response” – A Comment

The day after… Naomi’s Photos

On the last day of school I found myself, once again, visualising the first day of the next year school year. It’s the easiest day of the school year to visualise, unless you bother to count “the last day”, which I always spend stowing away supplies in the English Room.

It goes without saying that I see myself smiling and chatting with the students as they come in (or stop by) about how they spent their summer vacation.

However, there won’t be any formal lessons related in any way to the theme of “How I Spent My Summer Holidays”.

All because of “The Fishbowl Response”.

The what?!

You know, the response you get when you cheerfully inquire what a student did over the summer and he/she mumbles “Nothing” and turns quickly away.

So what does that response have to do with a fishbowl?!!

Alone…
Naomi’s Photos

The phrase “the fishbowl response” was inspired by a story Jamie Keddie told in one of his “Sunday Posts”, which I subscribe to. Keddie brilliantly combines visuals and storytelling – I love how a simple sign or an object becomes a thought-provoking story! In the post entitled “Are You a Fish in a Fishbowl?” Keddie tells us about a story from his own school days. In response to his teacher’s question (“What did you do at the weekend?”) he replied “nothing”.

She demanded to know if he was a fish in a fishbowl.

Oh!

My first reaction was a gut reaction.

I could never say that to a student, and I don’t think anyone should. Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive since I’m a Special Ed teacher, but children who reply with “nothing” are feeling vulnerable enough as it is, and are not likely to ponder metaphors and hidden meanings. In fact, they can easily feel insulted.

When you read the post you quickly see that Keddie’s point is that even  a fish in a fishbowl actually could have a story to tell. You don’t have to have had an exciting , eventful summer in order to have a story to tell. Your thoughts and experiences matter.

Let the story out!
Naomi’s Photos

So, considering that I agree wholeheartedly that every student, no matter how “boring” his/her summer vacation was, has something worthwhile to share, why do I refuse to plan a lesson on the topic?

Because it takes time, every single year, to create a safe classroom atmosphere – a class where everyone’s story is respected. Some teenagers, particularly in special ed classes, have pretty lonely summers. Not only do we need to teach students to respect someone else’s story, we need to teach students to recognize and respect their own stories.

That takes time.

One more thing, before you go:

Think about the “fish in the fishbowl”  for a minute longer. See how Jamie Keddie’s simple image becomes a focal point and helps get the message across?

Images matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Former Students Pop In or How Does a Teacher’s Memory Work?

What gets caught?
Naomi’s Photos

“We’ve walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together”.      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I met the most recent former student, who had popped in for a visit,  in the teacher’s room. Thankfully, she hadn’t come down to the English Room first.  It made me feel slightly less bad to know that the other two teachers, who had also chatted with the student warmly about what she’s been doing and what she plans to do, didn’t remember her name either.

The student graduated six years ago…

When we did figure out the student’s name, I was taken aback. That student and I had really “walked” together for three whole years through all kinds of “windy weather”! She was one of those hard of hearing students who had arrived in 10th grade hell-bent on proving that not only didn’t she know any English, it would be impossible to teach her any.  It took quite a while until she agreed to “take my hand” so we could “walk together” and brave the elements with a security net.

“Can you remember who I was?
Can you still feel it?”      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what I remember (or don’t) about which former student. With some it’s their name, with other’s it’s a task they handed in or the way they behaved in some situation.  Some students I remember a great deal about and some I barely remember. That’s particularly embarrassing as I teach most of the students for three years and I spend a great deal of time thinking about them.  I’m at school five days a week, too. But it seems as if there’s a capacity limit  – each new class of students seems to erase memories of previous students.

You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.           “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I’ve been teaching for 32 years now..

At least when I  meet students whom I taught more than 10 years ago I no longer feel embarrassed to ask them their name.

But six years?

Does your memory work in the same manner? How do you deal with it?

 

ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 4. Active Listening

This is part four of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

The Commander
(Not a pigeon, I admit, but still suitable)
Naomi’s Photos

“I led the pigeons to the flag” – do you know how many American first graders, native speakers, solemnly recite that each morning while pledging allegiance to the flag?  As William Saffire presents it in 100 Years of The New York Times: On Language :

“The most saluted man in America is Richard Stans. Legions of schoolchildren place their hands over their hearts to pledge allegiance to the flag, “and to the republic for Richard Stans.” With all due patriotic fervor, the same kids salute “one nation, under guard.” Some begin with “I pledge a legion to the flag,” others with “I led the pigeons to the flag.”

Fanselow’s section on Active Listening reminded me of this article, because he focuses on understanding how difficult it is for native speakers to understand / repeat / write  correctly words they aren’t familiar with when they hear them. Then he highlights the question: what are learners of English as foreign language actually hearing when we model  language? Is it what their teachers expect? Or are they blithely leading pigeons to the flag some of the time?

Not what you expect…
(Naomi’s Photos)

I’m so glad I read this section of the book too. Obviously, I can’t comment or try the suggested activities as they are not suitable for my classes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. But Fanselow answers the perennial question that teachers, who have a hard of hearing student in their regular English class often ask:

“Why does my hard of hearing student do so much better in his/her other subjects? When I have a conversation with him/her outside of class the student seems to understand me well! Perhaps the student needs to listen harder?”

You can’t “listen harder”.  The hard of hearing student understands you better in his/her native language because he knows the language better.

Fanselow doesn’t mention this in his book but I would like to point out the issue of acoustics. Poor classroom acoustics doesn’t help anyone and is certainly a big problem for a student who doesn’t hear well. Acoustics affect the teachers as well!  Here is an extremely short  (and teacher friendly!! ) Buncee presentation with some useful tips that could help make your day less tiring and make a significant difference to students: “The Sound of an “English Room”.

 

 

ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 3. Dialogues

This is part three of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

It may be old, but new to me!
Naomi’s Photos

In the book, Fanselow brings up the issue of how the method of reading – thinking – speaking (without looking at the text) may seem to be just a tool for practicing dialogues, but that’s not its main use. The more I use the method now in class the more I understand what Fanselow means when he claims that it helps develop reading comprehension, vocabulary, syntax and more. I’ve just spent several lessons reading 120 word opinion compositions with three Deaf students in this manner(going for what we call their Module G matriculation exam soon). All three commented on how they felt focused on details of the composition and how it led to meaningful discussions.

Note – These students are Deaf so I had to write what they said as they spoke, so we could discuss it. In the book Fanselow has different suggestions for writing and other variations which I have not yet tried.

In any case, I was eager to try the method for practicing speech in pairs or small groups. It is very challenging for me to work on speech in my mixed level learning center. Not only are the students levels of English and academic abilities wildly different, their level of hearing and communication skills vary dramatically as well.

So here’s a Buncee Creation (thanks to Arlene Blum for introducing me to Buncee) to visualise the situation.